First Love
by Lt PJ

Rating: PG
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters, but I have enjoyed borrowing them for a while!
Author's Note: OK, if you are a purist about the books, you might want to leave this right now. I wrote this story because I wanted Hornblower to have a relationship that is one part teenage crush, one part mutual respect and five parts friendship. I am sorry, but I have never felt any vibe like that in his relationship with Lady Barbara. Now, without further ado....


CHRISTMAS 1792
The ballroom was crowded and extremely hot. The windows were barred
shut against the chill December night, and the flames of the candles and the fire
blazing in the hearth combined to make the air stifling almost beyond bearing.
Hanging over everything, like a pall, was the odor of hair powder, perfume and
sweat. All of the guests appeared to be enjoying themselves, in spite of the
oppressive atmosphere.
All but one. Standing near the door, half hidden by a large and dusty
potted plant was a tall, somewhat awkward figure. His dark curly hair was bound
tightly in a queue at the nape of his neck, and the top of his head nearly brushed
against the lintel behind him.
Horatio Hornblower hunched his shoulders in an effort to minimize his
height, making it easier to hide behind the plant. He ran a finger around the
inside of his collar; his neckcloth was tied somewhat too tight for comfort. Or
maybe it was just his nervousness. His Uncle Thomas had brought him to this
party to introduce him to Sir William Fairfax, Baronet, and lately captain in His
Majesty's navy, but had walked off and left him on his own.
Now Horatio stood to one side, absently watching the couples moving
about the dance floor. He imagined the music was excellent, but it all sounded
like an infernal din to his ears. He took another sip of punch from the cup in his
hand, and scanned the crowd for his uncle. At age seventeen, and very
conscious of his fragile dignity, he was horribly uncomfortable in this sort of
social situation. Being left to his own devices only made it worse.
The outside of the cup was thick with condensation, so he discreetly
wiped his hand on the tails of his coat. This is probably the last time I'll be so
formally dressed as a civilian, he thought. Which brought him back to the reason
he was at this ball in the first place. Horatio straightened to his full height and
spied his uncle on the far side of the room, in conversation with two elderly
gentleman, neither of whom looked like the other retired naval officers that
Horatio had met recently.
"Horatio?"
The quiet voice at his side nearly made him jump out of his skin. Turning
towards the voice, Horatio beheld his Aunt Harriet, a questioning look on her
face.
"You seemed to be in an awfully brown study" she said. "What could
possibly be so disturbing Christmas Day?"
Horatio cleared his throat before replying. "Nothing disturbing, aunt. I was
simply looking for Uncle Thomas, so that I may be introduced to Sir William."
He spoke gently to his aunt, partly out of habit, but mostly so as not to
offend her. He was aware of what he owed to her. It was her family connection to
Robert Keene, Captain R.N., that was providing him with his future. In less than
a month he would be taking up his post as a midshipman under Captain Keene,
and he did not want his aunt to think him ungrateful.
Harriet Rawson looked at him with a slight gleam in her eye. "Well, your
uncle is right this moment signaling you." she said, a slight lift of humor in her
voice. "And I believe Sir William is with him." And with that she withdrew from his
side and moved off to join a group of wives and daughters.
Horatio quickly looked toward where his uncle had been standing. He was
indeed beckoning the younger man to come, so Horatio straightened his
shoulders and back, and began to make his way across the room.
Halfway there he stumbled on the corner of a rug, and careened straight
in to another guest. The silver cup he was holding dropped to the floor with a
loud clang, and he knelt to pick it up before too much punch could stain the
carpet and the wood.
"Don't worry about the spill." a quiet voice said above him. "Believe me,
worse things than a little punch have made their way on to this floor." There was
no mistaking the laughter in that voice, and Horatio blushed deeply at how well
his mind had been read. He took a deep breath before turning his head to look
up at his companion.
When he did he was stunned into immobility. Standing above him, a
gentle smile curving her lips, was the most beautiful girl he had ever set eyes on.
She appeared to be about his own age, with shiny red hair that she wore tied
loosely away from her face. And what a face! Her lips were full, her nose
straight, and a pair of bottomless green eyes stared guilelessly into his brown
ones.
When she reached a hand down as if to help him up he snapped out of
his trance and quickly, if awkwardly, got to his feet. When he straightened up he
was able to get a closer look at her. She was tall, only a couple of inches shorter
than he. In fact, she towered over every other woman in the room! Her gown was
the most stunning shade of blue, accenting the warmth in her hair and her
complexion.
His mind started churning, searching for something to say to her, when he
was rescued from embarrassment.
"Emily, do not monopolize the guests. Is this your nephew, Mr. Rawson,
that you wanted me to meet?"
Horatio tore his eyes away from the girl and saw his uncle standing
nearby. His companion was a short, stout man, with white hair and tanned and
weather beaten skin. His clothes were impeccable, even if his manners were not.
Unconsciously Horatio put a hand on the girl's shoulder and moved her gently
aside.
Thomas Rawson was obviously embarrassed and angry at the scene that
Horatio had caused. He struggled to master his temper before replying to the
question that had been addressed to him.
"Yes, Sir William." he said. "This is my nephew, Horatio Hornblower."
Horatio bowed slightly to Sir William. "An honor, sir." he said.
Sir William grunted slightly, whether in approval or disgust was not
known. He gestured to where the girl was standing slightly behind and to the
side of Horatio.
"My daughter Emily." he said. "Emily, this is Mr. Rawson and his nephew,
soon to be Mr. Midshipman Hornblower."
Emily Fairfax looked up into his eyes and held out her right hand. Some
strange impulse gripped Horatio, and he raised her hand to his lips. Her smile
broadened, his own lips curved up in response, and he knew he was lost.
Three days after the Christmas ball of Sir William Fairfax, Horatio sat at
the table in the kitchen, studying. His uncle had obtained a copy of Clarke's
Complete Handbook of Seamanship for him, and he was trying to make sense of
what he was reading. It was all a jumble of masts, yard, ratlines, topgallants,
wearing, tacking, and being hove to. At this rate, he thought, I'll never survive
one day in the navy, let alone a lifetime.
The front door of the house opened, and a slight breeze ruffled the pages
of the book. Horatio looked up when he heard his uncle's voice in the front hall.
He couldn't make out the words, but Uncle Thomas sounded angry. His aunt's
voice was calm and quiet, as always. As footsteps approached the kitchen door,
Horatio quickly dropped his head back to the book, the better to present an
image of studiousness.
The kitchen door burst open, bringing with it a blast of cold air. Horatio did
not look up right away, but he was aware of his uncle's anger filling the small
room. He finished reading a sentence, although he did not understand a word of
it, and then he met his uncle's eyes.
Rawson took a deep breath to calm himself before sitting in the chair
across from his nephew. Really, he said to himself, this is all so crazy. The boy
has hardly left the house since the Christmas ball, and he is hardly the type to
go around seducing young women. When he finally spoke, his voice was much
quieter, although the hard edge of his anger was not completely blunted.
"Horatio, I have just been speaking with Sir William." he said. "Have you
seen or spent any time with his daughter since the night of the ball?"
"No uncle, I haven't." Horatio replied. "I have spent most of my time here,
studying. I doubt I would even recognize Miss Fairfax if I saw her in town."
He blushed a little at that last remark, and prayed that his uncle wouldn't
notice. The truth was that Horatio had been unable to erase from his mind an
image of red hair and laughing green eyes. Emily Fairfax was a frequent invader
of his thoughts, but he had not seen her since the night they met.
"Why the questions, sir? Has something happened to her?"
Rawson rubbed a hand on his face, wishing that he could do away with
his fatigue by such a simple gesture. He had been working many long hours
since the Christmas holiday, and being summoned to speak to Sir William had
not helped any. The old captain had ranted and raved for at least half an hour,
and all but accused Rawson of encouraging his nephew's obvious admiration for
Emily.
"No, Horatio. Nothing has happened to Miss Fairfax. Her father is just
concerned because she has been spending a great deal of time away from the
house." Rawson took a closer look at Horatio, noticing finally the stain of color in
the boy's cheeks. "Are you sure you haven't seen her anywhere?"
Horatio met his uncle's eyes squarely. "I'm sure, uncle." He pushed his
chair away from the table and stood up. He left his book lying open, turned and
gathered his hat and coat from their hook by the door.
"Where are you going?"
"For a walk. I've been inside all day, and I feel the need for some air."
Without stopping to hear further questions, Horatio pulled open the kitchen door
and hurried out into the cold January day.
Once outside, Horatio paused to take a deep breath of the bracing air. He
struggled into his coat, and clapped his old-fashioned tricorne hat on his head.
For some reason, the conversation with his uncle had made him nervous. Don't
be a fool, he told himself sternly. What Emily Fairfax may, or may not, do is none
of your concern.
He began walking toward the village, his long legs carrying him there at a
rapid pace. Once clear of the trees that bordered his uncle's property, the wind
caught him, cutting right through the wool of his coat. He folded his arms across
his chest for warmth, and pushed on, determined to find a place where he could
be alone with his thoughts.
The walk to the village warmed him up, and to a degree cleared his mind.
He could understand his uncle's nervousness with regard to Sir William; the
livelihood of the Rawson family was largely dependent on the goodwill of Fairfax.
Horatio knew, also, that it would be easy to blame him if something were to
happen to Emily. A young man, only living in the district until his entry into the
navy was finalized, and one who had shown a marked liking for the young lady
on the occasion of their meeting. He was a tempting target.
He broke free of his thoughts just then to find himself standing along side
the pier. The wind coming off the water was piercingly cold, but Horatio stood
there, gazing out to where the ships of war rode at anchor. There were almost
too many of them to count, and he couldn't guess which one he would be posted
to. The salt tang of the sea was evident, and he inhaled deeply of the scent.
After a few moments he turned from the water to make his way back to the
house. Almost immediately he collided with another figure, knocking it to the
ground. Horatio's new companion was swaddled in an old pea jacket and
wearing a boater on his head. The impact staggered Horatio momentarily, and
when he recovered himself and went to assist, he met with another shock. The
straw boater had fallen off, and a great fall of red hair caught the light even on a
dreary January day.
A glimmer of recognition crossed Emily's face, and she smiled. "First a
punch cup, and now me." she said. "Will you knock something down everytime
we meet, Mr. Hornblower?"
Horatio felt a blush climbing his cheeks, and he prayed that the redness
from the cold would hide his embarrassment. He put out a hand and assisted
Emily to her feet. He pulled a little too hard, however, because she overbalanced
and fell forward against him. Horatio instinctively put his arms around Emily to
steady her, reflecting with part of his mind how natural it seemed that he should
do so.
When Emily had recovered herself sufficiently she pulled away from
Horatio slightly, but still stood within the circle of his arms. She took the
opportunity to study his face, matching it to the embarrassed young man she had
met at Christmas. He was not what many girls her age would consider
handsome, but Emily was nothing if not different from most girls her age. She
found the arrangement of his features to be quite pleasing, and felt almost as if
she could melt in the warmth of his brown eyes. For all his awkwardness, the
arms that held her were sure and strong, and she felt a pang of sorrow knowing
that he was shortly to be aboard one of the ships out in the harbor.
Horatio felt Emily's close scrutiny of his face, and another tide of
embarrassment swept over his face. He released his hold on her, and took a
small step back. As he did, he became aware of how she was dressed for the
first time. She wore breeches and boots, and the collar and cuffs of her shirt
peeked out from within her pea jacket. The jacket itself was quite large on her
and had most likely belonged to her father. As he watched, she pulled a length
of black ribbon from one of her pockets, gathered her hair at her nape, and
began to expertly bind her shining hair in a queue.
When she was finished binding her hair, Emily looked around and spotted
her boater lying a short distance from where they stood. She walked over,
scooped it up, and clapped it back on her head. The transformation in her
appearance was amazing. She had changed from a beautiful young woman to a
man that a press gang would likely pick up for service at sea.
Horatio was astonished, not only at how different she appeared, but at the
fact that the daughter of a former naval captain and the local squire would dress
so and wander about the town unescorted. He was about to ask her what she
was doing when another voice, shouting some distance away, caught the
attention of the two of them.
"Emily!" the man shouted. "Blast you, Emily! Where have you got to this
time?"
A look of fear came into Emily's eyes, and before Horatio had time to
react, she grabbed his hand and ran away from the voice, pulling him behind
her.
As soon as they reached the village, Emily began to negotiate her way
through the twisted alleys and lanes around the buildings. She slowed her pace,
but kept hold of Horatio's hand. Finally, she ducked into the dead ended alley
alongside the Lamb Inn. They were sheltered from the wind, and the solid wall of
the inn blocked out most of the noise coming from the tap room. It was quiet; a
private place where they could talk.
Emily leaned back against the wall, her chest heaving from the exertion of
the dash into the village. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes alight with
laughter. When she smiled, Horatio couldn't help himself; he leaned forward and
gently brushed his lips against her cheek.
Amazed at his own audacity, Horatio started to pull away, but Emily kept a
tight hold on his hand. When he looked into her eyes he saw that she was not
offended by his behavior, in fact she seemed pleased. Her smile gentled, and
she gave his hand a quick, understanding squeeze.
"Who was that who was shouting for you down by the pier?" Horatio
asked. "He certainly seemed angry, and anxious to find you."
Emily snorted, a thoroughly unladylike sound. "That was my older brother,
Henry. Also known as my watchdog."
"Your watchdog?"
"Yes. My father cannot bear the fact that I like to do things on my own, so
he always sends my brother out after me." She gestured to the clothes she was
wearing. "You don't think that my father lets me come out dressed like this, do
you? If he had his way, I would never come into the village at all, let alone
dressed like an ordinary seaman!" Emily giggled. "I often think that the press
gang would snatch me up like this!"
Horatio laughed with her, intrigued by the fact that her statement so
closely mirrored his earlier thoughts.
"No, I don't imagine Sir William approves of your trips to the village." He
sobered as another thought came to him. "But I believe that he is rather worried
about you. He spoke to my uncle about it just today."
The expression of contempt that crossed Emily's face spoke volumes. "He
is not worried about me! He's worried about the damage that might be done to
his reputation and position if it became generally known that I take these little
walks. Besides, why should he speak to Mr. Rawson about me?"
Horatio cleared his throat; for a moment he was too humiliated to speak. "I
think he was concerned that I was somehow leading you astray."
"How old are you, Mr. Hornblower?" Emily asked suddenly.
"Seventeen." was the reply.
Emily raised her eyebrows. "I'm three years older than you. I would think
that if anyone is doing the leading, it would be me." She looked at him shrewdly.
"Besides, why would he think you, of all the young men in the district, would be
the one leading me astray?"
Horatio looked down at his feet for a moment, then he decided to tell her
the truth, however embarrassing it might be. "Your father would have to be blind,
or a fool, not to have noticed that I admired you from the moment I first saw you
at Christmas." He looked up and met Emily's eyes directly. "I do not think Sir
William is either blind, or a fool."
Emily reached out for Horatio's hand, and held it tightly between both of
hers. "He is also aware of the fact that I was not indifferent to you when we met."
A blush spread over her cheeks. "How could I possibly resist a man who falls at
my feet the way you did?"
They laughed together at that, and Horatio briefly touched her cheek with
his free hand. He looked up at the sky and said "Its getting late. I'll escort you
home."
"You don't need to. I'm sure my watchdog is waiting somewhere for me."
"I want to." And with those words Horatio gave a slight tug of his hand and
pulled Emily away from the wall she had been leaning against. Hand in hand,
they set off towards the manor.
When they reached the edge of the Fairfax property Emily stopped.
Lamps were being lit throughout the house, and any second now either her
father or her brother would appear at one of the windows.
"This is as far as you should go, Horatio." she said. "If my father or
brother see you with me..." She left the sentence unfinished, but he caught her
meaning all the same.
Still, Horatio was reluctant to leave her. Despite the short time that they
had known each other, he felt a kinship with Emily, a sort of soul connection,
unlike anything he had felt before.
"Emily.." He got no further with what he planned to say. She leaned close
to him and pressed her lips to his. For a brief moment time ceased for them both,
and the world shrunk down to just the two of them.
Emily backed away first, and before Horatio could react, she pulled her
hand from his grasp and ran toward the house. She disappeared inside, an he
caught a glimpse of her passing one of the windows before he turned away and
began walking back to his uncle's house. A wide grin came over his face, and he
walked with a definite spring in his step. Had he been musically inclined, no
doubt he would have whistled.


It was four days into the new year, 1793, when the parcels were delivered
to the Rawson house. There were several wrapped in plain paper and one oddly
shaped box. They sat in a heap on the narrow bed, where they had been
unceremoniously dumped just a few minutes before.
Horatio sat on the floor facing his bed, his long legs folded underneath
him and his chin resting in one hand. He stared morosely at the items stacked
there. He was reluctant to open any of them, for he knew what each one
contained. A dark blue coat with brass buttons and a white patch on either side
of the collar, two pairs of half breeches, silk stockings, leather boots, new shoes
with pinchbeck buckles, a dirk with scabbard, and a bicorne hat. All of it
necessary equipment for a midshipman in His Majesty's Navy. And all weighing
him down like a millstone.
He shifted his position slightly; the floor was quite hard and he felt his
posterior starting to numb. I may as well get up and face it, he thought. I can't
avoid this forever.
He unfolded his legs and got slowly to his feet, feeling the kinks in his
muscles as he did so. He walked awkwardly to the bed and perched on the edge
of it, pulling one of the parcels towards him as he did so. The paper wrapping fell
neatly away to reveal the coat, and Horatio ran his finger lightly over the row of
buttons that ran down the front. They felt cold to his touch, and he shivered
involuntarily. His entire life was moving ahead so fast it was beyond his control,
and he felt helpless to stop it.
Voices at the bottom of the stairs broke into his thoughts. His uncle's
voice was louder than his aunt's quiet murmur. He couldn't make out the words,
but Horatio knew exactly what they were discussing. Aunt Harriet was letting her
husband know that the uniform had been delivered from the tailor's shop that
afternoon. He had a few minutes to spare, however, before his uncle called him
downstairs.
Horatio picked up the uniform, took off his old jacket, and slipped into the
midshipman's coat. He had no mirror, so he couldn't imagine how it looked, but it
felt comfortable enough. The local tailor had done a fine job, despite Rawson's
fears that the finished product would be less than presentable. The wool was of
excellent quality, and the white silken lining was smooth and somewhat cold.
Again, Horatio shivered, and he felt a measure of panic start to come over him.
He took several deep breaths to calm himself, something his father had taught
him to do years ago.
At the thought of his father, Horatio felt tears briefly sting his eyes. In two
days time he would be rowed out to one of the great ships in the harbor outside
of Spithead. He had been separated from his father for nearly a year, and he
had no idea when he might see the man again. It was a part of the price he paid
for accepting the help of his mother's family.
Footsteps on the stairs brought Horatio back to himself, and he quickly
wiped his face with one hand. He was pulling off the uniform coat just as a brief
knock sounded at the door and his uncle entered the room a moment later.
Rawson looked at the packages piled on the bed and nodded with
satisfaction.
"Good", he said. "Everything is finished. I was worried that useless excuse
of a tailor would be unable to complete the order."
"Not everything, sir." Horatio replied. "The cloak wasn't yet finished, but
he promised it would be delivered tomorrow afternoon."
His uncle's lips tightened in anger. "He had best keep that promise, or
he'll get no more business from me." He turned to leave the room, but stopped
and faced Horatio again. He gestured to the parcels and said "Make sure
everything fits. You'll need to wear the uniform tomorrow night when we dine
with Sir William and his family."
Horatio felt his jaw go slack with surprise. "With S-sir William?" he
stuttered. "We are dining with Sir William tomorrow night?"
Rawson controlled his impatience with an effort. "Yes, we are. And I want
you dressed properly for the occasion." Again he started to leave, only to turn
back. "And Sir William's daughter will be a part of the dinner, Horatio. I expect
you to behave with perfect propriety."
Horatio stiffened his spine, indignant that his uncle would refer, however
obliquely, to Sir William's accusations of a week ago.
"Of course, sir. You will find my behavior correct in all particulars."
With that assurance his uncle was content, and he left the room.
Horatio listened to his uncle's footsteps clattering down the stairs. As
soon as they reached the bottom he crossed to the bed and with one sweep of
his arm threw all of the packages to the floor. He sat on the edge of the bed, and
they lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. He knew that if he shut his eyes, the
image of Emily Fairfax would start to take over his thoughts, so he studiously
kept his eyes focused on the small water stain just above his head.
Even so, the thought of Emily made him smile. Every day for the past
week the two of them had managed to spend some time together; stolen
moments arranged around his studies and whenever she could elude her
brother, Henry. Sometimes she would appear as herself, properly dressed as the
only daughter of the village squire. More often she came in her breeches and
boots, swathed in the old pea jacket that belonged to her father.
As was his habit, Horatio had spent some time analyzing his feelings for
Emily. He was of too practical a mind to believe in love at first sight, but
nevertheless it seemed he had fallen in love in fairly short order. The way she
smiled when he approached, the way her eyes lit with laughter as her smile
transformed her face, the way she looked up at him as they walked side by side
through Spithead; all of these things had become such an important part of his
life. Love, he said to himself. What a strange set of circumstances to cause such
a feeling!
Horatio sat up suddenly on the bed. They were dining at the Fairfax
house tomorrow night! Although it meant spending approved time in Emily's
company, it also meant dealing with her father. Sir William had not seemed
terribly impressed when introduced to Horatio, how much worse would that be if
he knew about all of Emily's meetings with him? Horatio pressed his hands to
either side of his face, digging his fingers into his hair as if to drive bad thoughts
from his mind.
A quiet knock on the door brought his thoughts back to the present.
Horatio got up from the bed and crossed to open the door. His Aunt Harriet
stood there, and he stepped back to allow her in the room. When she saw the
parcels scattered across the floor she hesitated a moment, then turned to face
him.
"Have you made sure that everything fits, Horatio?" she asked.
Horatio said a brief prayer of thanks that she had decided to ignore to
condition of the room and responded. "Only the coat, aunt. I was just about to
see about the rest."
Harriet nodded. "All right. I trust that you will let me know if something is
not right?" she asked with a touch of humor in her voice.
Horatio smiled at his aunt. He had often wondered what it was like to be
mothered; with Aunt Harriet he was learning quickly.
"Yes, aunt. I will let you know if there are any problems."
She smiled her gentle smile and touched his hand briefly before leaving.
Horatio stood in the center of the room and surveyed the mess of packages. He
started opening them and separating the articles out. Breeches in one pile, shirts
in another, stockings in a third.
The following evening, Horatio stood in front of the mirror in her room
while his aunt fidgeted with adjusting his uniform. He had never considered
himself vain, but he felt that he looked quite presentable. There was very little
that could be done about his slenderness, but at least the uniform did not
emphasize it.
Harriet pulled out her handkerchief and gave one last buffing to the
buttons across Horatio's breast. She felt tears clog her throat as she looked at
him. During the months that he had been living there, she had grown quite fond
of the boy. He was shy, serious, awkward and ungainly, it was true, but when
she looked at him, Harriet saw the man that he was becoming, and she heartily
approved of what she saw.
"Well", she said, swallowing against the tears. "You are as ready as I can
make you." She looked her nephew up and down. "I must say, Horatio, you look
quite wonderful in uniform."
Horatio blushed at the compliment and stared at his feet. Harriet took hold
of his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. When he looked up at her he saw that
she was indeed proud of him. He overcame his shyness, stood tall and straight,
and offered his arm to her. With a smile, Harriet hooked her arm through his,
and together they descended the stairs.
At the landing Horatio stopped suddenly and stared in shock. At the foot
of the staircase, in earnest conversation with Thomas Rawson, stood his father.
He vaguely felt his aunt's hand drop from his arm, but all of his attention was on
the tall, dark-haired man at the bottom of the stairs. He was startled to see how
much his father had apparently aged in the last year, and he could not stifle his
gasp of surprise.
At the sound from the landing Jacob Hornblower looked up. He saw a tall,
slender young man attired in the dress uniform of a midshipman in His Majesty's
navy, and for a brief moment did not recognize his son. When he did it was with
a jolt of surprise. The boy was taller, and carried himself with great composure.
With feelings of resignation Dr. Hornblower watched his son descend the stairs.
It was all Horatio could do not to rush down the stairs and joyously greet
his father. When he reached the bottom he stood stiffly, very self-conscious of
the gazes of both his father and his uncle.
Dr. Hornblower reached out his hand to his son. "You look very well,
Horatio." he said. "Your aunt and uncle have taken excellent care of you, I see."
Horatio cleared his throat. "T-t-thank you, Father. I am well." Inwardly he
cursed the stammering of his words. His father, of all people, would surely
realize the nervousness that underlay that stutter.
"Your father has come to attend to Captain Keene, Horatio." said Rawson.
"At the captain's specific request, I might add."
Horatio looked at his father. "Is that true, sir?"
"Yes it is. I understand that you are dining tonight with Sir William
Fairfax?" Horatio nodded. "I regret that I will be unable to join you, but the
captain is in need of medical attention." He saw his son's face fall at this
announcement, and he hastened to reassure the boy. "However, I believe I will
be able to get away long enough to see you off to the Justinian tomorrow. Until
then." With a nod of his head to Harriet, Dr. Hornblower left the house.
Horatio moved quickly to the sitting room window and watched his father
stride down the drive. He was soon swallowed by the encroaching darkness.
Horatio tuned to his uncle and said "Why is he not joining us for dinner? Did you
say something to him, uncle?"
Rawson had the good grace to blush slightly. "You heard what he said.
He needed to attend to Captain Keene. It would hardly do for your father to
offend your captain on the eve of your joining his ship, would it?" He pulled his
watch from his pocket and flipped it open. "If we do not make haste, we shall be
late. Harriet, my dear..."
He helped his wife into her cloak, and turned for one last speculative look
at his nephew. Horatio slung his boat cloak over his shoulders. The red silk
lining flared into visibility as he turned to open the door.
Once outside, Horatio settled his cocked hat securely on his head. The
clatter of hooves announced the arrival of the carriage, and he assisted his aunt
to alight before climbing in himself. He sat across from his aunt and uncle and
sank into his thoughts. He was fairly certain that Rawson had said something to
his father; perhaps implying that the good doctor was no longer welcome in
certain areas of his sons life. Horatio chafed at the way his uncle had been
dominating his life for the last year. Well, tomorrow that will all be over, he told
himself. All I need worry about then is pleasing Lord only knows how many
superior officers aboard ship. At that he smiled to himself at the irony of
exchanging one dominating figure for a whole slew of them.
Rawson noticed the smile on his nephew's face, but did not wish to know
the cause of his amusement. Horatio was a very quiet and solitary boy, often lost
so deep in his thoughts that it was difficult to get through to him. Rawson could
have no complaint of the lad's behavior, however. In all particulars he was a very
proper and dignified person.
As the carriage drew up outside the Fairfax house, Horatio came out of
his deep thoughts and felt a thrill of anticipation. He would see Emily soon, and
they would be able to talk openly, instead of skulking in the village to avoid
being caught by her brother. The front door swung open and light poured out
onto the drive. Horatio climbed from the carriage first, and stood waiting for his
aunt and uncle to precede him inside.
The entry hall was warm and inviting. Horatio handed his cloak and hat to
a footman, then made to follow into the parlor, when a voice behind him checked
his motion.
"I can scarce believe my eyes! Can this be the same Mr. Hornblower I met
at Christmas?"
Horatio turned and met Emily's eyes. The amusement in her face was
obvious, as was the admiration. He spared a quick glance over his shoulder to
ensure no one was watching, then quickly stepped forward to give Emily a kiss.
When he stepped back she brushed at some lint on his shoulder, all the while
with that mischievous smile on her face.
"I must say, Mr. Hornblower" she said. "That uniform greatly becomes
you."
"Thank you, Miss Fairfax." He offered Emily his arm. "Shall we join the
others?"
As they walked into the parlor, Horatio became aware of all the eyes that
were on the two of them. His uncle, looking uncomfortable; his aunt, barely
suppressing a smile. Sir William, looking as if he could erupt in anger at any
moment, and Emily's brother, Henry, whose glance moved between his sister
and Horatio in speculation.
Emily led Horatio over to her brother. "Henry, I do not believe the two of
you met at Christmas. Allow me to introduce Mr. Midshipman Hornblower."
Henry Fairfax looked the younger man up and down before extending his
hand. Horatio took it, and exerted a fair amount of pressure. Henry's glance at
him had been dismissive, leaving no doubt of what he thought. Horatio was very
conscious of Emily's presence at his side, so he made an effort at polite
conversation.
"How do you do, Mr. Fairfax. I am happy to make your acquaintance."
Henry took his sister's other arm and gently pulled her away from Horatio.
"Would you excuse us please, Mr. Hornblower? I would like to speak to
my sister for a moment."
The pair walked to the other side of the room. As soon as he judged they
were out of earshot Henry erupted.
"Is this the boy you've been meeting in the village everyday? Good God,
Emily, have you taken complete leave of your senses? If Father finds out he'll
have you hidden away from public view for the rest of your life!"
Emily bristled at the tone in her brother's voice. "I do not need protecting,
Henry. Not by you or by anyone else!" she hissed, her voice just above a
whisper. "And if Father does find out it could only be because you told him!" She
looked pointedly at where Henry's hand still rested on her arm. "Now, if you
would please release me, I need to attend to my duties as hostess."
When the party sat down to dinner shortly after, Emily was at the foot of
the table, as befit her status as her father's hostess. Horatio was gratified to be
seated to her right, and the two were able to talk together without attracting
notice. Still, Horatio could feel the glares directed his way by Henry Fairfax all
through the meal.
When coffee was served Sir William stood rather suddenly. "Mr.
Hornblower, would you please join me in the study?" he asked. "I wish to speak
to you."
Horatio could feel his cheeks growing red. Lord, he thought to himself. Sir
William knows about my meetings with Emily! I cannot imagine this will be a
good thing!
He followed Sir William into the study, trying very hard to maintain his
composure. Once there Sir William directed him to take a seat. Horatio sat
gingerly on the edge of the chair and waited for the questions to begin.
"You take up your posting tomorrow, is that correct?"
Y-y-yes, Sir William." Horatio replied. "I will be going aboard HMS
Justinian."
"A fine ship. And Captain Keane is a fine man and a good officer. You
should do well under his tutelage." Sir William cleared his throat before
continuing, and when he did it was with a touch of embarrassment. "I couldn't
help but notice, Hornblower, that you admire my daughter."
Horatio looked down at his shoes in response. He was afraid to look up,
for he knew that the full truth would be writ plain across his face. In the short
time he had known her, he had come to love Emily. She was beautiful, charming,
witty, intelligent, and utterly without pretense. No one who had seen her dressed
as an ordinary seaman would believe that she was the daughter of a baronet.
She was honest in all things, but most of all with herself. He could not imagine
ever encountering another woman like her for however long he lived.
"The reason I ask...Hornblower, are you listening? I say, you seem to
have quite lost yourself." Sir William said, offense radiating from him in waves.
Horatio drew himself up, gave himself a swift mental kick and spoke. "I am
sorry, Sir William. My mind wandered. You were saying....?"
"I was asking you if you thought Emily to be an intelligent and practical
sort of young lady." Sir William sighed. "I fear I have been very hard on her in
some ways. She is very beautiful, and I have always worried that she would
allow the admiration of others to impress itself too vividly on her mind."
Horatio was completely taken aback. Sir William wanted his honest
opinion of Emily?
"Well, sir, I do indeed consider Miss Fairfax to be an intelligent lady. She
does not have that vanity that so often accompanies beauty." Horatio stopped
speaking to consider for a moment. "She has also the most wonderful sense of
humour, as well as a sense of the absurd. I confess sir, I do admire her very
much indeed."
Sir William smiled at those words and relaxed into his chair. "A sense of
the absurd, indeed! She has been around naval officers for most of her life,
many of whom are absurd in the extreme! I fancy that is where she gets it from"
He laughed outright at that, and when he spoke again it was with none of the
formality he had previously shown. "Shall we rejoin the rest of the party?"
Later that night Horatio lay in his bed, unable to sleep. His mind was full
of Emily's last word to him; she promised that she would get to the quay to see
him off, no matter what. With the image of her smile firmly established in his
thoughts, Horatio finally fell asleep.
The following morning dawned gray and cold. There was the promise of
rain in the air and a wind that stirred up the waters of Portsmouth Harbor. From
the window of the Lamb Inn Horatio stared out at the dirty weather. His father sat
at the table behind him, contentedly eating the innkeepers fine stew. Horatio had
been unable to eat more than a few bites; his stomach was clenched with
nervousness at what awaited him aboard ship.
Finally it was time to leave. Emily had not come. At the quay a longboat
waited. Horatio's seachest had already been loaded, and the two woman at the
oars were impatient to get started. The rain had changed to sleet, and no one
was out who did not have reason to be.
"Well, its time to go." Dr. Hornblower reached to shake his son's hand.
"Good luck, Horatio. I know that you will do well."
Horatio swallowed the lump in his throat, but was unable to respond. All
his fears of this life that had been chosen for him crowded in at that moment,
rendering him speechless. He could only smile shakily at his father before he
turned away and walked towards the end of the quay. He was dimly aware of
hoofbeats approaching, but in his misery gave them not a thought until a voice
arrested his steps.
"Horatio!"
He turned around just in time to catch Emily as she flung herself down
from her horse. They held each other close, heedless of the sleet or the curious
stares of on-onlookers.
"I almost didn't come! I was afraid I would cry and I did not want you to
see me like that!" Indeed, there were tears in her voice as she spoke. But her
smile was there, and that sparkle in her eyes that he loved so much.
"Emily, I must go. I don't know when..."
Emily stopped his words with her hand. "No, don't say it. We'll see each
other again, I'm sure of it." Her smile wavered a little with her next words. "Now
go! I'll be here waiting." She put her arms around his neck and pulled his face
close to hers. "I do so love you!" she whispered just before they kissed.
Emily pulled away first, She took several steps away from Horatio, and
went to stand beside her brother, who had been unnoticed until then. She stood
straight and tall, with her chin set at a determined angle. As the longboat drew
away Horatio looked back for one last glimpse. She still stood there, watching
him until he was out of site.


Two weeks later Hornblower stood outside the Lamb Inn in Spithead,
looking out to where the Justinian rode at anchor. Despite his best efforts, he
found himself dwelling on the nightmare his life had become. At first life on board
had not been so bad. True, he had been seasick that first day, but once he
settled down things improved. His fellow midshipmen accepted him, and he was
beginning to enjoy his new life. Kennedy and Clayton were becoming friends,
and he could even find his way about belowdecks without getting lost.
Then, Jack Simpson had returned to the mess. That first night he had
tormented Horatio by having Kennedy awaken him every half hour. The following
day he had tricked Horatio into revealing his fear of heights, then been
humiliated by the ease with which Horatio solved a navigation problem under the
captains eye. It was that humiliation, more than anything, that precipitated what
happened next.
That evening, in the mess, Simpson had subjected him to what was
jokingly termed "The Inquisition". When Horatio had attempted to fight back,
Simpson had beaten him bloody, stopping only when threatened by Clayton. Dr.
Hepplewhite had treated his injuries, but had been somewhat drunk; too drunk to
listen to any explanation of what had happened. When questioned by Lt.
Eccleston the next day, he had lied without knowing why. Perhaps because of
the unspoken code that a man does not speak against a crewmate?
Whatever the reason, Eccleston had ordered that he spend two hours
lashed to the rigging as punishment. As he hung there, shivering in the cold rain,
his thoughts had turned toward shore. He thought of his father, his aunt, and of
the blessed warmth of sitting beside the kitchen fire. And he thought of Emily. At
first he had tried to push those thoughts from his mind. He could not bear the
idea of Emily being aware of his humiliation, of his inability to defend himself.
But as the cold seeped further into him and he became nearly delirious as a
result, his unruly mind had focused on her and wouldn't let go.
"All right. You can cut him down now."
The voice had barely penetrated the fog in Horatio's head. He looked to
his left and saw one of the seaman, Matthews was his name, cutting the ropes
that bound his left hand to the rigging. The arm had fallen to his side like a lead
weight. He felt his right arm freed, and then his ankles. He promptly collapsed;
Matthews catching him before he could fall over the side into the water.
"Take him to the midshipman's berth. I'll arrange for an extra ration of rum
for him."
Hornblower had blinked his bleary eyes and looked up to see Lt.
Eccleston standing over him. The concern in his face was obvious, and for a
moment he appeared to want to say something further. An apology or
explanation for his decision, perhaps? Whatever it was, the moment passed, and
at his nod Matthews and two others lifted Horatio and carried him to his berth.
Once there Clayton and Kennedy took over the care of their friend. They
got Horatio out of his wet uniform and into a nightshirt. He was shivering so
badly he could hardly function. They had lain him in his hammock and piled their
own blankets on top of him. When the rum was brought, they made him drink,
even though he choked as the liquor burned down his throat. It had spread a
credible warmth through him, and his teeth finally stopped chattering.
And now here he was, in Spithead, working with Simpson and two officers
from the Goliath on a press gang. Unconsciously his hand strayed to the last
reminder of his beating, a cut high on his right cheek that was not healing as
rapidly as the rest of his injuries. With one part of his mind he was aware of the
laughter radiating from the inn behind him, but all his thoughts were bent on
finding a way out of the difficult situation he found himself in. Desertion was not
a possibility; as he had confided to Clayton, "I'd never be free of him then." He
had given some thought to suicide, but a part of him balked at the idea of
self-destruction.
He started to pace the small street; five steps in either direction. He often
found it easier to think like that. He wrapped his cloak closer about his person,
trying to keep the cold from seeping into his bones. His feet were already numb,
and the leather of his boots creaked with every step he took.
A raucous burst of laughter sounded from the inn. Horatio stopped pacing
to glance through the window. He could just make out Simpson's figure,
comfortably ensconced in a chair by the taproom hearth. He held a tankard in
one hand, and his other rested on the hip of the buxom serving girl. She did not
seem bothered by his attentions; in fact it was she who was laughing the
loudest. Horatio turned away from the window, back towards the end of the
street and began to pace again. He got only two steps before he ground to a
halt, shock momentarily warming him from head to toe.
Standing at the end of the street, a basket on her arm and the hood of her
cloak pushed back, was Emily. For a moment Horatio was afraid that she was
the work of his fevered imagination; an extension of the daydreams he had had
while hanging in the rigging. But no, it was she! Her red hair glimmered in the
pale sunlight, and her brow furrowed as she studied a piece of paper in her
hand. Horatio opened his mouth to call to her, but all that emerged was an
inarticulate croak.
Emily looked up from the list she was studying when she heard the
half-choked sound coming from further down the lane. When she saw who stood
there her hand went limp, and the paper fluttered to the ground. She took a step
forward, uncertain how to react to this unexpected reunion.
Horatio smiled tentatively; he too was unsure of the situation. But at the
site of his smile Emily let go of her hesitancy, dropped her basket, and ran to
where he stood. She was in his arms before the basket hit the ground. At first
they just held each other; they were both too stunned to believe it was real. After
a moment Horatio became of aware of the fact that Emily's shoulders were
shaking. He pulled away from her slightly and looked down at her face. He had
expected to find she was crying, but the opposite was true; laughter lit her face
and made her that much more beautiful. Heedless of the people around them
Horatio kissed her.
When they came up for air Emily's serious mien had returned. She ran
her hands up and down his arms, and across his shoulders, almost as if she
were looking for signs of injury. Apparently satisfied that he was intact and
unharmed she spoke for the first time.
"What are you doing ashore?", she asked. "My God, when I looked up
and saw you I thought I was dreaming!" She looked closely at his face then, and
noticed the cut on his cheek. She reached out to touch it, but pulled back at the
last moment. "What happened? Why are you in Spithead? You're not deserting,
are you? Horatio, answer me!"
Horatio had felt his smile growing broader through Emily's litany of
questions. At her demand that he answer, he laughed outright. "Which question
do you want me to answer first? No, I'm not deserting. I took a fall down some
steps, that's how I hurt myself. And I am in Spithead with a press gang. In fact,
my senior officer is in The Lamb right now."
Emily's lip curled with distaste at that. "He sits in the warmth of an inn,
while you freeze out here? What kind of officer is that? Not one I would want to
serve under!" She moved around Horatio to look in the window of the inn.
Something she saw had an impact on her, for she gasped out loud and quickly
spun away so that only her back could be seen from within. Her face paled, and
for a moment Horatio thought she might faint. He tightened his clasp on her, and
guided her to a small bench built into the wall of the butcher shop across the
way.
He held her hands between both of his, trying to press warmth into flesh
suddenly chilled. "Emily, what's the matter? What did you see?" When she didn't
respond, and a blankness settled in her eyes, he shook her hands to jolt her out
of it. "Emily...."
"Jack Simpson." The words that came out of her mouth were barely louder
than a whisper. If he hadn't been sitting so close to her, Horatio would have
missed them. As it was, he could scarcely believe what she said. Emily
recognized Simpson? How? From where? All sorts of thoughts swirled in
Horatio's mind, but eventually one separated itself out. Judging by her reaction
to the sight of him, if Emily knew Simpson it was highly likely that he had harmed
her somehow.
Horatio felt a surge of anger. I'll kill him, he thought to himself. I'll kill that
bastard Simpson if he lays a hand on her! He had to fight the instinct to charge
into the inn and have it out with Simpson at that moment. The violence of his
reaction should have disturbed him, but he felt comforted by it. I suppose this
confirms that I love her, he said to himself. He needed to find out more about
how Emily knew Jack, and to do that he had to bring her back to herself.
Horatio turned Emily's head, forcing her to look directly at him. He moved
her hands to hold them in just one of his, and with his other reached up and
pushed an errant strand of hair away from her face. At his touch Emily seemed
to come out of her trance; the intelligence came back to her eyes, and with it a
trace of fear.
"Emily, how do you know Jack Simpson?" Horatio asked quietly, so as not
to startle her.
Emily took a deep breath and let out a gusty sigh before she answered.
"He served under my father almost six years ago. He and some other officers
from Father's ship were invited to a party held on my fourteenth birthday." She
shut her eyes briefly, as if to block out bad memories. When she continued her
story the fear in her eyes was more pronounced, and she squeezed Horatio's
hands tighter.
"At first he was perfectly polite, even charming. I could see that my father
liked him, so I made an extra effort to be nice. Over the next few weeks Simpson
visited our home whenever he was ashore. I could tell he was personally
interested in me, and my father encouraged him." Another deep breath, another
sigh. "I think my father had ideas of the two of us marrying, but I wasn't looking
for that."
"One day, Jack arrived at the house, and I could tell he had been
drinking. My father was out, but Henry was in the house, otherwise I would never
have agreed to see him. The gin had made him bold, and he started talking
about how happy he would be once we were married. He talked like he expected
it to happen within the week!" Emily looked closely at Horatio, searching his
eyes. "Can you imagine how I felt? I was fourteen years old, with no idea of love,
let alone marriage!"
"Well, I told Simpson that there was no possibility of my marrying him, that
I wasn't ready for marriage at that point in my life." Emily closed her eyes then
and kept them closed. "He erupted! He stormed about the room, raving that I
would marry him, or he would see to it that I never married anyone! He took the
chair he had been sitting in and threw it through the window, and he smashed
one of Father's globes. Then he grabbed me." A tear slipped out from under her
eyelid and slowly trailed down her cheek. "I tried to fight him, but he was too
strong! I bit one of his hands, and he let me go. He grabbed one of Father's
canes in the stand, and he would have attacked me with it, but Henry burst in at
that moment."
Horatio had kept silent throughout this recital, his jaw clenched tightly with
anger. Despite his strong emotions, his touch was gentle as he drew Emily's
head to rest on his shoulder and wrapped an arm about her. For a few moments
she gave vent to her feelings, crying almost silently. When she raised her head
again, Horatio gently wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"What happened after that?" he asked.
A ghost of a smile touched her lips. "Henry laid him out flat with one
punch. Then he and one of the stable hands threw him off the property. I don't
know what Henry said to Father, but whatever it was, it was effective. Simpson
was transferred off the ship the next day, and I haven't seen him since. Until
today."
The look of fear suddenly returned to Emily's eyes, and she squeezed his
hands tightly. "Horatio, promise you will not try anything with Simpson as a way
to defend my honour. You have no idea what kind of man he is! Please! Promise
me!"
Horatio gently disengaged himself from her hands and stood up. "I can't
make that promise, Emily. However, I can assure you that I know exactly what
kind of man he is..." His fingers briefly touched the unhealed cut on his cheek.
"And anything I may do to him is as much in defense of my own honour as
anyone else's."
Emily saw the look of determination is his eyes and decided not to argue
the point further. She stood up as well, stretching to press a kiss against the cut
on Horatio's cheek. They held each other close for a few moments more. When
she stepped back, Emily kissed her fingers and pressed them to his mouth, and
without another word she turned and walked away.
Two days later Emily sat in the parlor of her father's house, watching the
wind whirl the snow about the yard. For some unaccountable reason she was on
edge that day. Her father had gone to Portsmouth to see if there was any news
on the situation in France, and Henry was out riding the property with the
steward. There was very little to be done about the house, and the weather was
too cloudy and raw for a walk to the village.
At the sound of church bells coming from the village, Emily stood up and
moved close to the window. As more bells joined in the clamor, she began to
worry - normally such a sound signaled a disaster of some kind. As she went to
collect her cloak to go investigate Mrs. Murphy, the cook, came bursting out of
the kitchen.
"War, Miss Emily!" she shouted. "Its war with France! The news just came
from the village. The Frogs killed their king, so we have to fight them. Here now,
miss, what's wrong?" A look of concern creased Mrs. Murphy's kindly face. "You
look like you're about to faint. Sit down before you fall down."
Emily had blanched at the news, all of the blood draining from her face. At
Mrs. Murphy's urging she sat on the bench in the passageway. Her first thought
upon hearing the word war had been for Horatio. This is real, she told herself.
We are going to war, and the young man that I love will be leaving, and might
never return.
She covered her face with her hands while her mind whirled. She could
remember her father coming home after fighting the colonies. He had been away
from home for most of her life so she hardly knew him. But even so, she could
see the look in his eyes whenever his mid turned to those days, and she hated
the thought of that happening to any of the men out in the harbor, but she
especially dreaded seeing such a change in Horatio.
A pounding at the door startled Emily to her feet. When she opened it a
blast of cold air blew in, carrying Horatio in as well. Emily was stunned
speechless at his appearance. Hatless, his boat cloak in disarray and his hair
pulled loose from its queue, he looked almost wild.
"Horatio.....?"
He grabbed Emily's hand and pulled her into the parlor, shutting the door
behind them, and leaning back against it. Emily moved a few steps away and
regarded Horatio. On closer inspections, she saw that his eyes were red, and
underneath the blush of the cold, his face was pale. His hands were clenched in
fists at his side, making the muscles of his forearms stand out sharply. He was
breathing heavily, as if he had run from the village.
At first Emily could think of nothing to say. When Horatio took a deep
breath, shut his eyes and let out a huge sigh she finally stepped to him. Taking
his hands in hers, she led him to the sofa and sat beside him. When he opened
his eyes again, the wild expression was gone from them, and he seemed much
calmer.
"Horatio, what happened?" she asked.
Besides war being declared?" He laughed slightly. "Not much, except a
good man is dead because of my stupidity and weakness."
Emily's brow furrowed in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
Horatio stood and began to pace the small room. "I'm talking about a duel,
Emily. I challenged Simpson to a duel."
Emily caught her breath at the bald statement of fact. "You did what? Not
because of me, I trust."
Horatio stopped pacing long enough to spare a glance for her. "Not
entirely because of you. Simpson is the worst sort of man - a bully, a liar, a
sneak, and a cheat." His hand strayed to the cut on his cheek. "Simpson gave
me this. He beat me bloody in the mess one night. I spent two hours hanging in
the rigging the next day because I wouldn't tell the truth about the matter. I didn't
know what else to do to escape from him!"
"But why a duel?"
"After you left the other day I went into the Lamb Inn. Lt. Chalk and Mr.
Caldwell of the Goliath came in and the four of us played whist. Simpson
accused me of cheating, and I saw a way out of this mess." Horatio sighed.
"That's the bare bones of the story."
"But..." Emily was still confused. "You're here, and unhurt. Did you kill
Simpson?"
"No!" His shout was agonized. "I was fully prepared to do this, and even
to die if it came to that. But Clayton..." As he spoke tears began to roll down his
face. "He knocked me unconscious - I don't know how - and he took my place."
Horatio sat back down on the sofa and buried his face in his hands. Hs next
words came out muffled. "And now he's dead, and all because I thought I had an
even chance against Simpson." His shoulders began to heave as his sobs
intensified.
Emily knew better than to ask any other questions. She sat down beside
him, and softly placed a hand on his shoulder. At her touch a great shudder
worked its way through his body. Horatio buried his head in her lap and sobbed
with all the abandon his teenage heart could muster, mourning both the loss of
his friend and his own inability to prevent it. How long they sat there neither
could tell, but the while they did the clouds broke and a milky sunshine came
through.
The following afternoon Horatio stood at the rail of the Justinian, looking
towards shore. He had just come from the captain's cabin, where he had tried to
prevent his transfer to the frigate Indefatigable. Captain Keane had been
insistent, however. Youth and quick wits, the captain had said of him. I wish I
could believe that was true, he thought.
I should probably go below and gather my things together, he told himself.
In three hours he and Kennedy would travel with the others being transferred to
where the Indefatigable was further out in the harbor. But it was too nice a day.
The temperature was slightly warmer, the wind had died down, and the sun was
shining. On a day like this you could almost forget the death of a best friend, he
said to himself.
"Mr. Hornblower."
The voice behind him was a familiar one. When he turned around the
seaman Styles was standing there, a slightly chagrined expression on his face
and an envelope in his hand. Horatio could not forget that it was Styles who had
helped Simpson in one of his cruel jokes, so he looked mistrustfully at the older
man.
"What is it?" he asked, trying to sound confident and commanding.
Styles held out the envelope. "This message just came for you, sir. Off the
shoreboat."
Hornblower took the envelope, recognizing Emily's handwriting. "Thank
you." And he turned back to the rail, tearing open the message as he did so.
When he pulled out the letter, a lock of dark auburn hair fell into the palm of his
hand. His heart caught at the sight of it.

"Dearest Horatio,
I imagine that you will shortly be transferring to another ship. I am
well acquainted with Captain Keane, and I know he would want you, and
all of his best young officers, to have a chance of serving on a real fighting
vessel. I know that the Indefatigable is in port right now; perhaps that is
where you are headed. But for now I will send this to the Justinian, and
hope that it reaches you.
Now that war has come, neither of us can say when, if ever, we
may see each other again. Horatio, I beg that you will not spare a thought
for me, but will concentrate on taking care of yourself so that you may
return home safe. I am in good hands here, My father and my brother, as
you know, keep an excellent watch on me. Perhaps too good, at times?
Well, that is by the by.
I am sending this lock of my hair to you. I hope you will keep it
close to your heart, as a reminder that my love and friendship are waiting
for you here. I need no such memento of you - I shall think of you
whenever a ship sails into, or out of Spithead.
With all my heart, I am,
Affectionately yours,
Emily"

Horatio smiled as he read the letter. He took the lock of hair, briefly
pressed it to his lips, and then tucked it inside one of the pockets of his coat with
the letter. His smile broadened as he glanced again toward shore. Standing on
the pier, with red hair shimmering in the sunlight, stood a small figure in a blue
cloak.
Horatio dashed up to the quarterdeck. Lieutenant Chadd was officer of
the watch; as soon as his watch ended he and the others would leave the
Justinian.
"Mr. Hornblower, shouldn't you be getting ready to depart?" Chadd asked,
puzzled by the huge grin on the young man's face.
"Yes, sir. I will shortly sir. May I borrow your glass sir?"
Now even more puzzled, but unwilling to ask, Chadd handed the glass
over to Hornblower, and watched as he trained it on the shore.
With the glass Horatio could see Emily clearly. She stood at the end of
the pier, a spyglass to her eye. She lifted her hand and waved. As soon as
Horatio returned the wave, she collapsed the glass, gave a satisfied nod, and
with one last thrown kiss she turned and walked away.
Horatio lowered the glass from his eye and handed it back to Lieutenant
Chadd. "Thank you, sir." He saluted. "I'll just go below and prepare to depart,
then." And with a jaunty step and a grin on his face, Horatio went below to
confront his future.

THE END


EPILOGUE

The following items were discovered in 1909, after the death of Horatio,3rd
Viscount Hornblower. They are now in the possession of Reginald, 5th Viscount
Faifax.

*************************
To: Captain H. Hornblower, HM Frigate Lydia
January 8, 1807

My very dearest friend,
I know that no amount of sympathy can ever make up for the devastating
loss of your children, but please allow me to offer mine nonetheless.
I must confess my shock at your sudden appearance in my life, after so
many years. In spite of that, it felt wonderful to be with you and speak with you
again, as we had always done in days past. I found myself remembering those
heady days before the war began, when we were both young and full of promise
for the future.
Horatio, I know that a part of you feels that your future has gone from you.
In some ways I know you better than you know yourself, my friend. You cannot
blame yourself for what happened to your children. Had you been ashore when
they took ill, there is very little chance you could have helped. I understand how
hard it is for you - it seems like every major event in your life happens while you
are at sea.
But do not use the sea as an escape this time, dearest Horatio. If you can
obtain solace from the smell of the salt air, and the wind singing in the rigging,
then do so. Do not allow it to become a crutch to support you. You can always
rely on the support of those who are honoured to count you as a friend.
I am aware that you have probably read the announcement, but I wanted
also to tell you myself. Robert Langdon I will marry in two weeks. I am not sure
that I truly love him, but we have been friends for some years, and I believe that
we will be happy together.
I must close now; however, I would impart one last bit of wisdom. Do not
feel guilty for any pleasure you may have derived from our meeting. Your grief is
perfectly normal at this time, but one can not grieve constantly. Your life is meant
to continue. I believe those were the words you said to me after my father's
death, so I pass them back to you now.
Be good to yourself, my friend. And stay safe.

Affectionately yours,
Emily




Navy Chronicle - September 20, 1807
Born September 15, 1807 to Sir Robert and Lady Emily Langdon, a son,
christened Henry Robert Langdon. Lady Emily is the daughter of the late
Captain Sir William Fairfax, Royal Navy, retired.


To: Leighton Dunbar, Solicitor
From: Lady Emily Langdon

The contents of this envelope are to be forwarded to Lord Horatio, Viscount
Hornblower upon my death. Should Lord Hornblower pre-decease me, the
envelope and its contents are to be destroyed.

May 28, 1847

My very dear friend,
You know that I have never been the sort of person who dwells on the
inevitable end of her existence. In recent months, however, my thoughts have
tended more in that direction. Robert has been gone for almost a year now, and
just last week my brother Henry died. And today, as I mark my seventy-fifth
birthday, I find myself confronting my own mortality.
Horatio, if you are reading this letter, it means that I am dead. Please
forgive the bluntness of that statement, but I cannot abide the current fashion of
speaking of death as a if it were a trip to the neighboring farm. I know that you
agree with me on this.
Do not mourn for me too much, remember rather all the years of
friendship that we have had. I can still vividly remember that Christmas when we
first met - how you tripped and fell at my feet. Despite all the vicissitudes of our
lives and our world in the intervening years, my feelings for you have not
changed. I have always loved with a tenderness that has never been duplicated,
except perhaps with my son, Henry.
It is because of Henry that I am writing this letter. You have frequently
expressed a desire to meet him, and I have always found a reason for not
allowing such an event to take place. I would know like to fully explain why.
I know of no other way to say this besides straight out. Horatio, Henry is
your son. When he was born, just over eight months after Robert and I were
married, I admit that I wondered. By the time he was a year old, I had no doubt. If
you could see him you would know it as surely as I do. Except for his red hair, he
is the very image of you.
Perhaps your memory of our only encounter is somewhat hazy; I assure
you that mine is not. I could never forget how it was with you, even though I
somehow always knew we were not meant to be together. Rest assured, I have
for these many years valued your friendship beyond anything else you could
ever be to me.
Horatio, now that I am gone, please do not try to be a presence in Henry's
life. Robert is the only father he has ever known, and I would not have his
memory in any way sullied. I simply wanted you to know the truth.

Affectionately yours,
Emily